Although the devise only displays a single pixel, the researchers say it is a proof of concept that it could be worn by a person. Eventually it could display short emails and other messages directly before a wearer’s eyes.
The safety of the prototype device was tested in the eye of a rabbit.
“This is the first time we have been able to wirelessly power and control the display in a live eye,” said Babak Parviz, an author and UW associate professor of electrical engineering. Among his coauthors are Brian Otis, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Andrew Lingley, a graduate student.
“Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” Parviz explained during a 2008 interview.
The researchers’ findings were published Nov. 22 in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
Perhaps the best-known science fiction character to use such a display is the Terminator, and for almost seven years Parviz and others have worked on trying to make the display a reality.
Building the lenses required researchers to make circuits from metal only a few nanometers thick, about one-thousandth of a human hair. They built light-emitting diodes (LED) one-third of a millimetre in diameter. And to help focus the images, the researchers made arrays of tiny lenses that were put into the contacts.
The contact lens has an antenna to take power from an external source, as well as an integrated circuit to store this energy and transfer it to a transparent sapphire chip containing a single blue LED.
Otis called this successful wireless transmission to a lens “an extremely exciting project … that presents huge opportunities for health-care platforms.” The team is working on a way to monitor a diabetic patient’s glucose level using lenses.